Energy Policy And Energy Use
Presented to Pacific Yearly Meeting July 1998
Revised June 1999
by Karen Street and Peter Trier



Comparisons and Recommendations: Electric Power Sources and Transportation Fuels Towards a New FCNL Energy Policy

                 Proposed FCNL Energy Policy

Energy Use Queries

                  1994 FCNL Energy Policy
                  Short List of Recommended Readings

Return to Friends Energy Project Home Page

Dear Friends,

A basic requirement of a fair, long-term energy policy is that it be consistent with economic justice between the “have” and the “have-not” nations. Those who live in poor nations have the right to achieve happiness and have their human needs met, even if those of us who live in richer nations have adopted lifestyles that place great pressure on the carrying capacity of our Earth. Those in the rich nations have no more rights to have their needs met than do those in poorer countries. A possible fair solution to the energy needs of the world requires that the population of rich and poor nations alike adopt energy policies and responsible lifestyles consistent with the needs of the present and the future population of this planet.

We acknowledge that meeting the energy needs of our planet will require very significant international cooperation and the development of transnational organizations. In this paper we will direct our attention to what we as United States citizens can do individually and collectively to meet present and future energy needs.

The two chief authors of this proposed minute have been active members of the Religious Society of Friends for more than 15 years each. One of us is an engineer and science teacher, while the other is a philosophy teacher. This document is an attempt to apply carefully Quaker principles, universal ethical principles, and the best current science to the areas of energy use and production. We understand and look forward to seasoning of our work by Berkeley Monthly Meeting and other monthly meetings and Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Karen Street began the discussion with a paper (Nuclear vs. Fossil Fuel) and an interest group on that subject in Berkeley Monthly Meeting. That paper was rewritten for PYM. This minute and accompanying material grew out of the interest group at PYM on energy policy.

Peter Trier and Karen Street


We wish to leave a world for today’s children at least as good as our own. It almost certainly won’t happen. Increasing per capita consumption of energy accompanied by increasing population is rapidly depleting world fossil fuel reserves while their use is changing our climate. Supplies of oil and clean water continue to decrease while population and expectations continue to rise.

Our queries ask us about stewardship: we are facing global environmental catastrophes from our use of fossil fuel. Our testimonies tell us to take away the occasions that lead to war: energy and water are expected to be the two main causes of war in the immediate future. Our testimonies speak of equality: oil production will peak in the next 10 to 15 years while 4.5% of the world’s population uses about 25% of the world’s oil (Campbell). Our testimony says that we will not fight with outward weapons, yet our lifestyle itself is killing large numbers.

Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren have produced an equation: Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology. To reduce human impact on the Earth’s environment, they say, reduce population, reduce affluence, and take advantage of technology. (Ehrlich)

This working paper is intended to provide a format for discussing better energy policy, focusing on the technology and affluence parts of the Ehrlich-Holdren equation. The authors believe that if Friends have the faith to look at these issues, and the patience, that we can help produce improvements over business-as-usual. From our corporate and individual wisdom, answers will emerge, and we will take actions.

Energy choices are complicated. They involve technical data that most of us don’t have. Energy decisions are made at many different levels:

On the assumption that choice made in ignorance is no choice at all, the main purpose of this paper is to inform the reader. It will discuss the issues involved in energy choice, present some of the data on which choices have been made, and define key terms.

The bulk of the paper, following this introduction, presents a fuel-by-fuel analysis covering the nature of each source, its advantages and disadvantages, future potential, and recommendations. These analyses are made by governmental and intergovernmental organizations, and represent scientific opinion fairly closely. The last two sections present 1) a suggested revision of FCNL energy policy regarding federal legislation, and 2) queries for individual Friends regarding our energy use.

Our testimonies require us to consider government policies and our manner of living. But the Society of Friends is especially well equipped to help the U.S. examine energy and population issues. Peacemaking skills are necessary for the discussion of energy sources, as California Friends have found in its first series of discussions. People attach emotional value to one energy choice or another. And peacemaking skills are necessary to help us sort through the tensions between individual rights and society’s needs, tensions present whenever we discuss overpopulation or overuse of fossil fuels.

Global Climate Change

If the effect on the U.S. of fossil fuel use remains constant, many millions of Americans will die over the next century, and the cost to agriculture will be enormous (EPA 1, 2). This is the cost to Americans only, from U.S. fossil fuel use only. “At the local level, the most pervasive and difficult environmental problems include air pollution ...(with) burning fossil and biomass fuels ... invariably major contributors” (PCAST p. I-9).

These short-term problems, however, are not the concern driving the world’s scientists, but only the footnote generally titled “additional benefits to reducing use of fossil fuels”. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was created in 1988 because of the magnitude of concern about global climate change. IPCC is the universally accepted reference on this subject.

Greenhouse gases interfere with the ability of the Earth to release heat. The primary greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide. There are others, including methane from agriculture, waste disposal and fossil fuel production and use; and nitrogen oxides from agriculture and industry. There is considerable debate in the scientific community about models and predictions, and large error bars attached to every prediction. Current models of climate include the amount of carbon dioxide and aerosols in the air, and solar variability, and can now accurately relate these factors to past global temperatures.

These are the findings of IPCC (PCAST p. I-10):

To add a little more detail (Aubrecht ch. 15): Carbon levels are now 365 ppmv (parts per million, volume), a level 1.3 times preindustrial levels of 280 ppmv. The IPCC “medium” scenario (includes population projections, increase in energy demands, increase in efficiency, shifts in energy sources) for carbon emissions over the next century predicts a final carbon concentration above the highest stabilization scenario of about 3.6 times preindustrial levels (PCAST p. I-13).
Reducing Energy Use

The world used 365 quads of total energy in 1995, of which 46 quads, or 13,500 billion kWh, was electricity (IEA). Under conventional business-as-usual assumptions of population growth, economic growth, and efficiency improvement, world energy use will double by 2030 and double again by 2100.  Carbon dioxide production will increase to over 2.5 times present rates by 2100 (PCAST). China, for example, will require a significant increase in power just to provide each family with a medium-sized refrigerator.

The U.S. used 91 quads of energy in 1995, of which 12 quads, or 3,400 billion kWh, was electricity. Our energy use is increasing at just over 1% annually. Under conventional business-as-usual assumptions, energy use will increase 75% by 2050, and fossil fuel use will increase even faster, because of the retirement of nuclear power plants.

Energy is costly. The average U.S. family spends about $1,300 annually on energy (PCAST). Tens of thousands of Americans die annually from fossil fuel pollution, primarily from transportation fuels and coal, but also the pollution from fires and barbecues. Annual crop losses due to fossil fuel use are estimated to be in the billions, and forests and other ecosystems are damaged commensurately (EPA 1, 2).

Efficiency and conservation are vital parts of any energy proposal. At the 1997 Kyoto Climate Conference, the U.S. signed, though never ratified, the Kyoto Protocol, agreeing to cut U.S. carbon production by 2012 to 7% below 1990 levels. This would require us to cut back one third from the expected increase by 2012—just to achieve the first small step. The IPCC anticipates that a greater U.S. and world response is necessary to mitigate the problems associated with global climate change.

Increased efficiency allows us to live approximately the same way while using less energy. Individuals and business could switch to efficient lighting and use energy efficient windows and appliances; the federal government could mandate high fleet average mileage. Efficiency has a negative cost: we save money. There has been enormous resistance to efficiency in the U.S. because of inertia, lack of knowledge about options, and our practice of calculating costs over a short time (two years or less) rather than a more reasonable time period, as well as opposition by vested interests. Both government and individual change can reduce U.S. energy use. Efficiency will be discussed further in the section on energy sources.

Conservation includes efficiency, and also doing without: drive less or not at all, adjust the thermostat, purchase less, and travel by train or bus rather than by plane. The U.S., with 4.5% of the world’s population, consumes about one fourth of the world’s energy. We Americans live in suburbs more than in cities and we have high expectations for both material goods and living style. Conservation will be discussed in Queries on Energy Use.


All discussions about a sustainable future world must include discussions of a sustainable population. If we reduce per capita energy use while increasing the population, we just tread water. Population control overlaps with issues we as Quakers usually feel comfortable with: should both parents take responsibility for their children? Should women have education, and roles beyond motherhood? Population discussions also raise issues that most of us like to avoid, such as abortion and immigration policy.

Addressing population issues will allow us to share the world’s resources more fairly. Solving the population problem does not assure a solution to the issues of land use, water use, and energy use, but failure to address the population issue can sabotage all solutions.

National Role: Price of Energy, Government Structure, and Deregulation

Presently, the Federal Government has a complex regulatory system, and deals with externalities inconsistently. Externalities are all the costs resulting from environmental degradation,  death, and suffering, costs not included in the customer’s energy bill. These costs might be paid for and underwritten by increased taxes, health insurance, and other personal expenses, or not paid for at all. They include the cost of research, roads and airports, and of wars and preparation for war related to energy issues.

Questions about externalities—the health and environmental costs, and other subsidies—cannot be solved by small groups. The expertise and political power required is greater than small groups can provide, and the consequences—the costs—of choices have worldwide impact. Canada subsidizes American energy use, and the Northeast subsidizes Midwest electricity production, because pollutants cross state and national borders. Global climate change will be subsidized by the southern hemisphere, coastal areas, and the island nations.

Other states and the world pay the cost of local and state decisions; states’ rights infringe on other’s rights. And the attempt to keep state’s rights through regulation leads to absurd policies: the US, through the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC), penalizes nuclear power, increasing its price artificially through over-regulation that doesn’t promote safety or the social good. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confuses matters by not comparing energy sources, but setting standards using best (projected) available technology. Meanwhile the Department of Defense, with military subsidies, and EPA, with strict regulation of some energies and near neglect of others, underwrite the price of fossil fuels. State and local rights have no meaning in this regulatory atmosphere.

If the price of energy more accurately reflected its costs, both utilities choosing energy sources and individuals choosing appliances and lifestyle would find it easier to make good energy decisions. ExternE, from the European Community, recommends raising energy prices to reflect their environmental and health costs, from a fraction of a cent per kWH for some of the safer fuels to several dollars per gallon for diesel. ExternE’s recommendations are given below for each energy source.

The Federal Government should calculate the true cost of energy that we use (the externalities) and begin taxing energy to reflect this cost more accurately. The U.S. government needs a structure that allows it to follow through on its responsibilities: to ask which energy sources (including efficiency) are better and which national policies would reduce energy use, to answer these questions, and to implement policy based on the answers. The U.S. should modify or override state and local decisions, if necessary.

Federal deregulation is a shift in the wrong direction. PCAST believes that deregulation will delay the development of all of the renewable energy sources and nuclear power, while increasing the importance of natural gas in electricity production. Though much safer than coal, natural gas is more harmful than most of the renewables and nuclear.

Local Role: Choosing Energy Sources and Mass Transit

Local decisions determine mass transit policies and the viability of bedroom communities, as well as insulation and lighting standards in new construction. After the federal government has created the pricing structure for the various sources of energy, choices among the sources are made locally. Local governments are responsible for considering climate change in land use and infrastructure policy—increased flooding may alter a region’s suitability for housing.

Individual Role

Individual choices include living in a more energy-conscious manner, based on the choices available: living in an area where the use of the car is less important, insulating, and using energy efficient appliances. But individuals are limited by our society: we cannot choose to take mass transit in an area that is poorly served.

As individuals we can:


This section summarizes what is known about the externalities of and recommendations for both electric power sources and transportation fuels. Some points to note:


Efficiency is not a source of energy, but a reduction in energy use.

PCAST (ch. III) considers “R&D investments in energy efficiency ... the most cost-effective way to simultaneously reduce the risks of climate change, oil import interruption and local air pollution, and to improve the productivity of the economy.”

Buildings account for 36% of U.S. energy consumption (commercial buildings 24%, residential buildings 12%). Industry and agriculture account for 38% of energy use, and transportation 26% (PCAST p. I-5). Transportation issues will be examined later.

PCAST recommends increasing research funding in building efficiency from $81 million to $275 million annually over the next 5 years for research in controls, materials and so on. PCAST recommends increasing research funding in industry efficiency from $116 million to $270 million annually over the next 5 years for research in energy-intensive industries and in motors.  They point to a program in window coatings developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories that cost $3 million and has produced $2.1 billion dollars in energy savings so far in the U.S. alone.

The potential benefits of energy efficiency are enormous: increased efficiency in buildings, industry and transportation could produce enormous carbon reductions and a fuel cost savings of $75 - $95 billion by 2020 if research is funded and if the government and individuals use the results (PCAST p. III-28).

Americans—both individuals and businesses—now undervalue conservation: we don’t pay for conservation measures that do not pay for themselves within one to two years. For ideas on increasing efficiency at home or work, see the appendix.

Relatively Safe Electricity Sources

All energy has a cost. All energy sources damage the environment and harm human health. The safer sources of energy still have costs associated with, for example, manufacture and  transportation.

ExternE considers the following fuels to be relatively safe for people and the Earth. Under business-as-usual projections, renewable power use will increase 0.8% annually; nuclear power use will decrease.

Wind Power

Wind power has great potential in the Great Plains states, and, to a lesser degree, in mountains and coastal areas. By 2025, wind could supply 230 billion kWh of electric energy in the U.S., 1,070 billion kWh if good storage systems can be created. Wind might eventually occupy a niche in the energy picture almost as large as nuclear power.

ExternE recommends increasing prices from current wind power sources in Europe by less than $0.003/kWh because of externalities related to manufacture, noise, visibility, and accidents. The manufacture of aluminum, an important building material, is very energy intensive. These externalities are considered for all sources of energy; for wind power they are most important. The European windmills generally don’t harm birds, a concern at some other sites. The price of wind power is high, but PCAST believes that it could decline to below $0.03/kWh, and to below $0.04/kWh with storage, which would allow wind to be used as a baseload supplier.

PCAST (p. VI 11-15) recommends increasing research funding for wind power from $29 million to $70 million annually over the next 5 years for research in fluid dynamics, materials, and so on. PCAST is optimistic about compressed air energy storage in particular. They recommend that wind replace fossil-fuel baseload plants as they are retired in the Great Plains states. Future wind power will have a low cost (including externalities); PCAST therefore recommends exporting it from the Great Plains to distances of up to 1,200 miles.

Solar Energy

Solar energy is used in three major ways: passive solar design, photovoltaics (PV), which generate electricity, and solar thermal electric (STE) systems, which also generate electricity. Solar energy, particularly STE, has the most U.S. potential in the Southwest. Worldwide, solar energy will be most important to the Middle East and other desert areas. Solar power today is also valuable in areas with low energy use located far from the grid (often as little as 2 to 3 miles). Solar power could eventually occupy a U.S. niche larger than wind power.

Energy use in buildings can be halved by incorporating efficiency into the design (insulation, windows, lighting and so on) and by using passive renewable designs. A well-constructed building uses daylighting technology to integrate natural and artificial light. Passive solar buildings use reconfigured walls, windows and overhangs to capture, store and distribute renewable energy. (PCAST ch. III, p. VI 37-39)

Many aspects of better building design are known and are incorporated by attentive individuals and governments. PCAST recommends increasing the research budget for passive solar from $3 million to $9 million annually over the next five years. Research topics include energy efficient and passive architecture in the context of materials, thermal systems, and whole-building design.

Photovoltaics use solid-state devices to convert sunlight into electricity. There is a great deal of optimism about the potential for integrating PV into shingles, siding and other building materials.

High temperature solar thermal technologies concentrate sunlight with mirrors, then operate like fossil fuel and nuclear plants—making steam to turn turbines—to generate electricity. STE/fossil fuel hybrid systems are possible, with STE providing 10% to 20% of the steam. Molten salt storage shows particular promise for storing STE energy.

PCAST estimates PV could provide 230 billion kWh electricity by 2035, 1,070 billion kWh with storage. PV generated electricity is not intended for export; it is used where it is generated. “International opportunities are enormous.” STE could produce 50 billion kWh by 2035, 880 billion kWh with storage. (PCAST p. VI  11, 15-20)

ExternE recommends increasing the price of PV generated electricity by about $0.004/kWh to cover costs associated with fabrication, including the energy used in fabrication and heavy metals added to the environment. They do not look at STE generated power, a new energy source. PCAST believes that PV prices could be as low as $0.07/kWh by 2020 in areas with average amounts of sunlight (1800 kWh/m2/year), and that STE could be produced for as little as $0.05/kWh by 2020.

PCAST recommends increasing research funding for PV from $60 million to $140 million annually over the next 5 years. PCAST stresses the need for funding for material science. PCAST recommends increasing research funding for STE from $22 million to $47 million annually over the next 5 years for research in thin-film reflectors and in new concepts in heat transfer fluids, receivers and storage.

Geothermal  Energy

Geothermal power uses the heat energy inside the Earth. Geothermal energy could supply 1,540 billion kWh of electricity by 2050. It is available in areas with volcanoes or near the boundaries of tectonic plates.

ExternE does not look at geothermal generated energy.

PCAST (p. VI 11, 21-23) recommends increasing research funding for geothermal power from $30 million to $52 million annually over the next 5 years.


Hydroelectric power currently provides about 9% of U.S. electricity, about 19% of the world’s electricity. Hydropower could provide about one third to one half more electricity in the U.S., frequently using already existing dams and reservoirs; currently U.S. hydropower use is decreasing.

ExternE recommends increasing the price of hydroelectric energy by about $0.007/kWh to reflect costs due to alterations in the river’s flow rate and water body. Dams affect geomorphology, agriculture, natural ecosystems and wildlife.  Dams also increase the number of insects and decomposition of plants which can increase disease (especially in the tropics), and create problems with groundwater. ExternE ignored construction and population displacement costs, as well as accidents.

The environmental externalities of hydropower are very site specific. These increase enormously in the tropics and subtropics, in areas where earthquakes are common or where a dam could increase the chances of earthquake, and in areas where an accident could harm a large population (a dam break in California could kill up to 250,000 people). None of these conditions fit the hydropower plants examined by the Europeans.

PCAST (p. VI  11, 23-25) recommends increasing research funding from $1 million to $12 million annually over the next 5 years for research on fish-friendly turbine designs, environmental impact, and environmentally sustainable low-head run-of-rivers technologies (small waterfalls).

Nuclear Power—Commercial Fission

Nuclear energy in this paper refers to the process of nuclear fission. Energy from the breaking apart of large atoms makes steam that drives turbines. Fusion, another possible source of nuclear power, will be considered later. Only Western commercial power plants are considered here. East Bloc designs have never been considered in the West. The Chernobyl accident resulted from serious design and operating weaknesses and is not considered relevant to the analysis of Western nuclear power. This paper also omits U.S. military nuclear power plants.

Nuclear power provides some 20% of U.S. electricity and about 17% of electricity worldwide. There have been no off-site radiation related deaths from commercial nuclear power plants in the U.S. (As in the discussion of safety for all of the energy sources, death refers to any premature death, including those that occur long after exposure or as a result of repeated exposure.) The newer plants are even safer. Several hundred deaths (past and future) among uranium miners have been attributed to uranium mining, both military and commercial, mostly in the early decades. Mining has become much safer, as steps were introduced from the late 1950s on to increase ventilation in the mines. (Bodansky—personal correspondence)

ExternE recommends increasing the price of nuclear energy by less than $0.005/kWh to cover costs associated with mining, waste disposal for 10,000 years, accident risk, radiation release into the atmosphere and water, and transport costs. The majority of the danger from radiation occurs in the mining stage. The average price of U.S. nuclear energy is $0.055/kWh, more expensive than in Europe. “For new nuclear plants to be considered ...means...cutting construction less than 5 years, as has been achieved in other countries.” (PCAST p. V 9-10)

PCAST (ch. V) recommends increasing research funding for nuclear power from $42 million to $119 million annually over the next 5 years. PCAST recommends federal cost sharing with industry to support R&D that can solve problems associated with extending the life of operating nuclear reactors. PCAST also recommends forming a Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI). The NERI would research better reactors and new technologies for permanent disposal of nuclear waste.

PCAST also discusses issues around exporting nuclear technology. They recommend supporting export of nuclear technology only to countries that have signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and encourage the U.S. to aggressively pursue nonproliferation agreements. PCAST discusses the role that the U.S. should play in a world where nuclear energy provides a significant source of power.

Because both government structure and public concerns around nuclear energy affect good choices in the U.S., PCAST recommendations go well beyond the technical:

Additionally, people interested in safe energy need to see that the process is not contested at every step, as is currently the case. Nuclear energy is one of the safest forms of electric power, yet the large number of unnecessary delays have added time and cost to plant construction without improving safety at all.
Nuclear Power—Commercial Nuclear Waste2

What happens to nuclear waste? We are taking a detour for this particular subject, because concerns about nuclear waste dominate the public discussion of energy.

Spent fuel is initially quite hot, literally: it is extremely radioactive and radioactivity produces heat. The spent fuel is sent immediately to cooling pools, where the short-lived radioactive atoms, the overwhelming majority at this point, rapidly decay. One year later, radioactivity is down to 1% of the level it was at discharge. After 10 years, it is down to 0.2%. Now it is cool enough to dispose of.

There are two disposal choices. In Europe much of the fuel is reprocessed, extracting 99.9% of the uranium and plutonium to use as fuel again. European waste is the remaining radioactivity in the spent fuel. Americans have chosen to dispose of the fuel rods directly. They reason that uranium prices are currently cheap and there is well over a 100-year supply; they also worry about theft of reprocessed fuel.

Interim storage consists of dry storage in casks at the reactor site or at a centralized facility. While interim storage is not necessary, the Swedish favor it for the next several decades over permanent storage in order to allow the spent fuel to cool even more. The cooler rods will not require as large a repository. There has been no rush to find a long-term solution. In the U.S., the political difficulties were underestimated. In Europe, finding a long-term site has been delayed because of political difficulties or because interim storage is seen as acceptable. For cask storage, fuel assemblies are placed in steel canisters while still underwater; each canister is then pumped full of helium and sealed again. The casks where the canisters are stored have steel walls at least 1.5 inches thick with an outer 29-inch thick concrete wall. Interim facilities store the canisters in such casks or in holes just underground.

The only U.S. or world proposal for long-term disposal is underground in salt or rock formations, using “multiple barriers”. The solid waste would be enclosed in a set of cylinders to limit corrosion and provide a barrier to water.

A desirable long-term storage site has 1) minimal water, 2) rock that retards radionuclide movement, 3) little ability to corrode the canisters or dissolve the radionuclides, and 4) is relatively safe from earthquakes, volcanos, and erosion. Germany is considering a salt dome site; Sweden (which is furthest along in the process) and Canada are each favoring a granite site; and the U.S. favors Yucca Mountain with its welded tuff, volcano residue fused together and not very permeable to water. The U.S. decision not to consider other sites is political (local opposition) rather than technical: Yucca Mountain lies partly inside the Nevada Test Site.

To assess the dangers of nuclear waste, EPA uses the linear model. They predict an average world population of 10 billion over the next 10,000 years. The model predicts that if a collective dose kills one person from a group of ten, that same collective dose will kill one person independent of group size: it will kill one from a group of 100 or from a group of 10 billion.

The greatest perceived danger from nuclear wastes over the next 10,000 years is the possible escape of 14C into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide (a gas).  EPA predicts that if all of the 14C escapes from the storage site, then an average of 4 people out of 10,000,000,000 might die every decade from 2,000 reactor-years of commercial nuclear waste, or 4000 total deaths over the next ten millennia worldwide This would bring the total expected deaths from radiation from this nuclear waste to over 1,000, thus exceeding an earlier EPA goal.

EPA, currently rewriting nuclear waste standards, had old requirements which the Department of Energy might have had trouble meeting, standards which showed an inability to distinguish when mortality rates are important and difficulty in setting realistic goals. EPA will only create more confusion if it attaches a one million year standard of safety. Two hundred people may die over the next 10,000 years as a result of nuclear waste generated this year from 100 reactors, while 2,000 coal miners will die this year (CDC).

Why are we having so much difficulty in making plans for processing waste? Public perception of dangers, federal/state disagreements, disagreements between different departments within the federal government, and rapid changes of administration have increased bureaucracy, produced conflicting resolutions, and contributed to delays.


Fusion power uses nuclear energy released when small atoms are fused to make a larger atom, the process used powering the stars. If fusion becomes a practical source of power, the energy released in fusion makes steam which works with conventional technology to make electric power. The Japanese and Europeans are each funding fusion research at well above U.S. levels.

PCAST (p. V 14-17) believes that fusion energy could supply significant energy by 2090. They recommend increasing research funding from $232 million to $328 million annually over the next 5 years. PCAST recommends a strong U.S. program and significant international collaboration.

More Dangerous Sources of Electricity

Currently, anything that burns is especially unhealthy for people and the environment. The primary dangers from energy use are both (1) long-term, primarily CO2 (see global climate change) and (2) short-term, primarily particulates (small unburned particles), aerosols (gaseous drops), nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carcinogens and ozone given off in burning.


Biopower uses the chemical energy stored in plants. It provided 3% of total U.S. energy in 1995, including both electricity generation and ethanol (made from corn) used in transportation. It uses significant water and is very low efficiency, so that biomass production requires large rainfalls and competes with food crops for land. Biomass is more valuable in countries with low labor costs: in the U.S., where labor is more expensive than energy, some biomass projects consume more energy than they produce (Aubrecht ch. 21). Biomass electricity uses smaller, relatively capital-intensive power plants and is often polluting. There are a variety of biomass fuels: the primary fuel used today is residue from foresting and agriculture industries. Biopower cannot be summarized as “good” or “bad” for a particular site without specifying the type of fuel.

PCAST estimates that by 2035, 830 billion kWh of electricity could be provided by biopower. PCAST believes that pollution from biomass can be reduced, and that biomass could be a part of an agricultural policy that encourages crop rotation or replaces idled land now funded by farm income support programs. Ethanol could become economically competitive as a gasoline substitute by 2015 when used in a fuel cell vehicle (see transportation). The promise is especially great in areas not connected to the grid, and by 2050, 25% to 45% of today’s global energy could be provided by biomass (about 10% to 20% of the energy consumed in 2050).

ExternE recommends increasing the price of biopower between $0.005 and $0.03/kWh. Their work referred to a range of projects, from residual wood (which had to be dug up and transported somewhere anyway so that no additional fossil fuel was needed) to production of biogas from waste, to specially growing crops such as poplar. Externalities include health effects due to burning and the use of fossil fuels in growing, transporting and processing. The effect on land use was not evaluated.

ExternE looked separately at the externalities of using peat for biopower. They recommend raising the price of electricity by $0.027 to $0.055/kWh to account for health effects due to burning, as well as global climate change. They did not evaluate the effect on the land and the costs of transporting peat, considered to be large externalities.

ExternE looked separately at the externalities of waste incineration. They recommend raising the price of power from waste incineration by $0.075 - $0.10/kWh (minus the cost of disposing of waste without making power).

PCAST (p. VI  11, 27-34) recommends increasing research funding for biomass power from $28 million to $93 million annually over the next 5 years.

Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels provide some 75% of total world energy and 85% (and increasing) of total U.S. energy.

Short-term Dangers Associated with all the Fossil Fuels

Global climate change was discussed in the introduction. This section looks at pollutants other than the greenhouse gases. The range of estimates of dangers is wide because the effects are complex and because it is difficult to assign blame when different factors work together in a nonlinear fashion. Almost all of the numbers below are from EPA; they probably err on the side of caution. Air pollution usually kills over a period of time, targeting the very young, the old, and the sick, though acute episodes have killed people in a short period: an estimated 270 people died one Thanksgiving weekend in New York City; London in the 1950s and 60s had several smog disasters that each killed hundreds or thousands. And air pollution travels. The majority of acid rain in the Northeast and Canada comes from Midwest pollution.

Particulate matter is particles, larger than a gas but small enough to lodge in the lung. PM10 are particles less than 10 µm in diameter, often containing sulfates. The main sources of particulates in the U.S. are coal power plants, transportation fuels especially diesel, wood stoves, and industry. PM kills tens of thousands of Americans annually, primarily through cardiopulmonary disease and lung cancer. It makes many more ill. PM has reduced the visual range from 90 miles to 14 - 24 miles in the East, from 140 miles to 33 - 90 miles in the West.

Ozone causes breathing problems for people with asthma. It causes pulmonary edema and pulmonary fibrosis. Ozone is responsible for 10% to 20% of respiratory emergency summer hospital admissions in the Northeast. Even low levels of ozone can reduce lung function in healthy adults 15% to 20%, and can weaken plants. It rarely kills directly, but rather weakens both animals and plants so that another illness/pest/stress causes death. Ozone costs the U.S. 1 to 2 billion dollars annually in crop losses. The effect on forests and other ecosystems is commensurate; ozone is particularly harmful to long-lived species (trees).

Nitrogen oxides (NOx) contribute to the formation of ozone. NOx cause cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease, but can harm other parts of the body as well. They , along with sulfur dioxide, are a major cause of acid rain (15% to 25%). NOx harm the soil, with great cost to both agriculture and forests.

Sulfur oxides (SOx) are the major cause of acid rain. Distilled water has a pH of 7 (neither acid nor base). Normal rain is somewhat acidic with a pH of 5.6 or higher, between milk and tomato juice. The average rain on the East Coast has a pH of 4.5, and can be as acid as vinegar or lemon juice. Acid rain kills fish in the lakes (fish don’t reproduce if the pH is below 5.4). Acid rain appears to be responsible for the 20% to 30% decrease in growth rate for several species of trees on the East Coast. In Germany, where average rain pH is 3.4, about 70% of trees are damaged. Significant damage to metal and stone is blamed on acid rain, which harms cars, houses, monuments, and Mayan artifacts.

Other problems with fossil fuels include health problems from carbon monoxide from transportation fuels, and heavy metal poisoning of people and the environment.

ExternE does not include such external costs as a decrease in biodiversity associated with “short-term” (other than CO2) dangers of fossil fuel use. Personal costs for buildings and clothes due to pollution (mostly fossil fuel), estimated to be $750 per capita in California (Aubrecht p. 261), are also ignored by ExternE, as are military subsidies. (EPA 1-3, Aubrecht ch. 13)

Fossil Fuel Power

Fossil fuel currently provides 68% of our electric power; coal alone supplies 56%. Under business-as-usual projections, coal use will increase 0.9% annually and natural gas use will increase 1.7% annually (AEO).

According to EPA, “In 1994, power plants were responsible for 70% of all sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions, 33% of all nitrogen oxides (NOX) emissions, 23% of point source emissions of direct or “primary” particulate matter (PM), 23% of anthropogenic mercury emissions, and 36% of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In addition, power plants contribute to a range of other environmental impacts due to their water consumption and disposal of solid wastes.” (EPA-3) About 140 coal miners die yearly from accidents. Almost 60,000 died from coal worker’s pneumoconiosis in the 25 years between 1968 and 1992. Coal mining is becoming safer: fewer than 2000 die annually from coal worker’s pneumoconiosis now, and the death rate continues to decline (CDC).

ExternE recommends increasing the price of natural gas generated electricity between $0.01 and $0.04/kWh, the price of coal energy between $0.02 and $0.17/kWh, and the price of oil energy between $0.03 and $0.12/kWh to cover environmental and health externalities. The price of coal energy in the U.S. is about $0.03/kWh. Natural gas is a little cheaper. The range of externalities attributed to fossil fuel use reflects variation in the fuel used (high sulfur coal is more dangerous, for example) and variations among power plants, as well as proximity to large populations.

PCAST suggests several reasons for improving coal technology. While the U.S. should reduce coal use, many countries have large reserves of coal, and many of these countries are willing to live with enormous environmental degradation and health problems in order to have energy at a low price. In many countries today, pollution is so severe that coal power would be an environmental improvement. Additionally, it may be possible to sequester (capture) much of the CO2 released in burning coal before it enters the atmosphere.

PCAST (ch. IV) recommends decreasing research funding for coal and gas power from $183 million to $152 million annually over the next 5 years, and shifting funding to Vision 21 (see transportation). They recommend increasing research funding for carbon sequestration from $1 million to $22 million (or more) annually over the next 5 years. PCAST recommends replacing U.S. coal power plants at the end of their life with almost anything else, and further reducing hazardous emissions in current and future plants.

Natural gas is much cleaner than coal, and produces half as much CO2 per unit of energy as coal. It would make a good bridge fuel as we shift from coal to safer fuels. Unfortunately, deregulation will introduce the widespread use of natural gas electric power at the expense of even safer fuels.


ExternE gives a wide range of the externalities associated with gasoline and diesel use, depending on where these fuels are used. The least environmental costs are on one intercity route, where ExternE finds that the costs exceed the price by as little as $0.60/gal for gasoline and $1.75/gal for diesel. The highest costs are in urban locations such as Paris, where ExternE finds the costs exceed the price by about $4/gal for gasoline and by about $30/gal for diesel. Externalities include the problems of all fossil fuels and, for some studies, noise and accidents. About 40% of nitrogen oxides come from transportation fuels (Environment Canada).

Fuel externalities are only a part of our enormous subsidies of transportation. The Victoria Transport Policy Institute, among others, analyze a range of transportation issues including land use and other subsidies.

PCAST addresses the transportation issues of efficiency (PCAST p. III 20-28), fossil fuel use (p. IV 10-23), and fuel cells (p. VI 34-38). “Transit R&D is insufficient in scale and too modest in its goals. The nation’s transit systems are all in some degree of crisis, yet little money is spent developing whole systems management, dispatch programming, multimodal linking” (p. III 26).

PCAST recommends the funding of three programs for increasing efficiency in transportation, increasing the annual budget from $176 to $335 million over the next five years.  Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles would focus on tripling the fuel efficiency of today’s mid-size cars. The carbon savings could be two thirds of that saved by shifting to wind power. The Office of Heavy Vehicle Technologies would improve efficiencies of light- and heavy-duty trucks, and resolve conflicts between environmental standards and other OHVT goals. The Intelligent Transportation Systems program, in the Department of Transportation, would deal explicitly with resolving issues around safety, congestion, infrastructure, energy and the environment. They would increase multimodal research, and generally become more focused and modern in their approach.

PCAST (ch. IV) recommends increasing total annual funding in fossil fuels (power and fuels) from $365 to $435 million over the next five years, particularly funding Vision 21, which would provide cleaner electric power as well as transportation fuels with higher efficiency, and almost no air pollutants or CO2 release. They recommend that the U.S. be more aggressive in promoting this program within the U.S., coordinating work among the several involved federal agencies and industry, and promoting cleaner coal power in coal-intensive countries. PCAST recommends ending both the Direct Liquefaction program and the Solid Fuels and Feedstocks program. PCAST has a much more extensive list of recommendations.

Fuel cells are a new technology with enormous potential. They could supply energy for transportation as well as for space heating and electric motors. First, hydrogen is extracted from fossil fuels and biomass without burning, producing significantly less pollution and about 1/3 the carbon dioxide per unit energy as compared with burning. Energy stored in the hydrogen molecules is now available for a fuel cell battery, which mixes hydrogen and oxygen to make water and produce a current. Currently 5% of U.S. natural gas production is used to make hydrogen. (PCAST p. VI 34-37)

PCAST recommends increasing annual research funding for hydrogen production and fuel cells  from $15 to $17 million over the next five years. They anticipate that hydrogen might become as important as electricity in the mid- to long-term. They recommend better articulated goals and better coordination of funding and research.

Many energy experts see transportation as the single most important area for U.S. improvement. It would be appropriate for the U.S. to examine how our manner of living and other factors affect transportation policy, and how transportation policy affects our manner of living. In many areas of the US, life without an automobile is difficult, yet mass transit saves energy only in areas with high population density.

PCAST Research Funding Recommendations
Energy source % US Energy 
(% US electricity)
1997 Funding 
(millions of dollars)
Proposed 2003 Funding (millions of dollars)
373 880
Wind < 1% (< 1%) 29 70
Solar < 1% (< 1%) 85 196
Geothermal < 1% (< 1%) 30 52
Hydropower 4% (9%) 1 12
Biomass 3% (3%) 56 192
Other, includes systems, assessment
54 99
Nuclear (fission) 8% (20%) 42 119
Nuclear (fusion) 0 232 328
Fossil Fuels 85% (68%) 365 433
Table 1 PCAST recommendations are based on importance of energy source, maturity of energy source, responsibility of industry for funding, and cost of research for the energy source. Wind power, for example, is one of the most important U.S. resources, but is a relatively mature source of energy and has few additional research needs.

Projected US Electricity Consumption and Production: One Scenario
assumes funding research and implementing results
Information from Federal Energy Research and Development for the Challenges
of the Twenty-First Century, November 1997 pp. ES-27, I-46, and VI-11

1. Newer energy sources are shown in the year they reach half their eventual potentials. Not all energy potentials can be achieved simultaneously—wind and solar, in particular, overlap. Potentials given are from the optimistic scenarios, both in terms of U.S. potential and year of utilization by the U.S. Wind could reach maximum potential by 2050. PV could reach maximum potential by 2090. Predictions in the far future are far less reliable.
2. Two numbers are given for the intermittent sources, the larger assuming that efficient storage systems have been created.
3. The mix of nuclear and fossil fuel will be a political/social decision.
4. This aggressive vision of PCAST will require funding and implementation.

Health and Environmental Externalities



Information from ExternE, Newsletters 5 and 6. ExternE is a EU collaboration.


Comparing Sources of Radiation
Source Average US dose  (mSv/year) 
Radon in houses 2
Cosmic rays  0.27 
Rocks and soil  0.28
Radioactive atoms naturally in your body  0.4
X-rays and nuclear medicine 0.53
Nuclear fuel cycle (commercial power) <0.01 
Table 2 From G. Aubrecht Energy, p. 411. Total average U.S. dose is 3.6 mSv/year (360 mrad/year).

Actual exposure depends on local minerals, altitude, flying habits, and medical tests.

People living downwind from Three Mile Island ironically live with radon levels significantly higher than the national average. Average exposure to people living near Three Mile Island was 0.012 mSv (1.2 mrem). A person at the periphery throughout the entire accident could have received a dose of 1 mSv.

The unit of exposure, or energy deposited, is the gray (= 100 rad). The dose takes into account the biological effect: 1 sievert (Sv) = 100 rem. 1 mSv = 1/1000 Sv = 0.001 Sv


Which of the energy sources we favor should we mention by name in an FCNL policy statement? None of them. Unless we are willing to undertake the task of understanding the complex details and then staying current in our knowledge, we should let the experts make specific recommendations. A policy is intended to guide us over a period of time, through changing geopolitical realities and technology.

We should, however, mention fossil fuel by name. The world’s scientists have as a body come to the world’s governments and to the public with their concerns. They have not united in this manner with recommendations on any other energy source.

Proposed FCNL Energy Policy

Right use and sharing of the world’s resources are crucial to human survival and welfare. Energy policy should not be based on narrow short-term commercial, military or national interests, but on long-term global concerns. All people of this world need access to energy for personal needs and development of their community.

A central part of our energy policy must be conservation: significantly increased efficiency and major changes in our manner of living. These are essential to meeting the energy needs of people throughout the world today and in the future, to lessen the likelihood that war will be used to gain or protect energy sources and to reduce the dangers to health and the natural environment. Some of these changes will have large effects on our lives.

The price of energy should reflect its true cost, including the cost of pollution. All energy sources pollute the world and affect human life, but we are most concerned with the extreme risk posed by fossil fuels, both now and in the future.

We recommend that the US:


How can we as individuals and a nation live with less energy?

We tell ourselves that we want to live simply. Below are some queries to begin discussion. None of us find this issue easy to confront. But those who are not yet born won’t have our choices—our failure to deal with energy issues will eliminate almost all of their options. The decisions we make will affect our children; our young people should help answer the queries. No one can know the answers to all these questions: these queries are to stimulate thought, further study, and possible action.

Energy efficiency and, sometimes, conservation have negative cost: they save us money, and therefore save us the time needed to earn the money. For example, compact fluorescents cost half as much as incandescents including the cost of bulbs even at the current subsidized energy price. Or compare the cost of a $0.30/mile car driven 6,000 miles/year ($1,800) with the cost of a $0.50/mile car driven 15,000 miles/year ($7,500) and consider the number of hours spent earning $5,700 net. But even in situations where saving energy costs time, consider whether we wish to take away the occasion that leads to war and whether we wish to leave those not yet born some oil, some energy choices, and a world less devastated.

The U.S. government could provide information so that we are not constantly reinventing the wheel. The complaint comes again and again from individuals: what choices should I be making? I don’t have the information I need.

Some groups are more comfortable with the general query: how do we as individuals and a nation reduce our energy use and carbon dioxide production significantly? Others may wish the greater specificity of the queries below. The quality of answers is important, not the phrasing of the question.


1. How many gallons of water do I use daily? How many therms of natural gas and kWh do I use per day? How many gallons of gasoline do I use monthly? How many square feet does my house have per resident (count garage)? At what temperature is my thermostat set in winter? in summer? How many cars does my family have per capita?

2. Do I arrange my life to minimize the use of an automobile?

Do I live without one, carpool when possible, use bicycle or public transportation when possible? If I buy a car, do I include energy efficiency in my decisions? Are my vacations by train, bus and muscle? Do I select my residence with direct and indirect transportation costs in mind? Do I help prepare young people for the world in which they will live: teach them bicycling safety and encourage them to use muscle power and mass transit?

If I live in a mass-transit friendly area, do I support a well-developed intermodal mass transit system? Do I support changing the infrastructure to become more bicycle and pedestrian friendly with sidewalks and bicycle boulevards? Does my government reward residences and businesses in high-density areas and charge true costs to people who live in low-density areas? Do I oppose roads not necessary for the future?

Do I work toward creating integrated, long term transit plans locally and nationally: plans that are friendly toward reduced fossil-fuel use. These would include improved intermodal access, and streets that are safe for smaller vehicles, pedestrians, and bicycles.

3. Is my house energy efficient?

Do I minimize my use of air conditioning by good insulation, adaptation to the climate, air coolers, setting the thermostat to above 70* F? Do I minimize my use of heating by good insulation, adaptation to the climate, wearing more clothes, setting the thermostat to below 70* F?  Do I take best advantage of passive or natural heating and cooling options (window shades, passive solar heat, etc.) for my home before turning to energy-consuming methods? Do I use energy efficient lighting (fluorescents, compact fluorescents) as well as energy efficient refrigerators, stoves and other appliances?

Do I close windows and shut off unused parts of the house when heating and air-conditioning?  Do I maintain these appliances, and use them in the most energy efficient manner? Do I use energy, when possible, at off-peak hours?

4.  Am I energy efficient in the kitchen and rest of the house?

Do I avoid the use of packaged drinks, and avoid the use of aluminum foil when a less energy costly alternative is available? Do I take short showers? Do I hand wash dishes—but not with the water running, or use European energy-efficient dishwashers? Do I minimize my paper use, and use cloth rather than paper when practical? Do I request that the post office not deliver junk mail, and discourage companies from sending me catalogs and other solicitations? Do I eschew energy consuming devices such as leaf blowers in favor of hand labor?

5. Could I significantly lower my energy expenditure by buying less and choosing well?

Could I buy less? Do I buy objects that last, rather than objects that wear out quickly? Do I consider energy costs when selecting items? Do I share tools and cars with the neighbors, or rent them? Do I eat lower on the food chain? Do I avoid buying products from far away when there are local sources available?

6. Do I personally avoid (or sharply limit my use of) recreational vehicles, pick-up trucks and off-road vehicles used as family transportation, sports utility vehicles and other low-efficiency vehicles, motor boats, water skis, jet skis, snow-mobiles, barbecues, wood fires (except in environmentally correct wood stoves) and other environmental polluters?

Do I support bans on such items?

7. What am I doing to encourage our nation to change its energy habits?

Do I support raising the price of energy to the actual cost of energy? Do I use the opportunities I have to teach others, especially young people, about the real costs of energy use, and about alternatives to the usual patterns of consumption? Do I support less dangerous energy sources over more dangerous sources? Do I support research into energy conservation, energy production, and new transportation systems? Do I support educational efforts to raise the level of discussion on energy issues?

8. Do I pay attention to a company’s energy policy as I might pay attention to its labor policy? Do I act on this energy information?

9. Do we care for those who will be hurt in the changeover?


1994 FCNL Energy Policy

Right use and sharing of the world’s resources for energy are crucial to human survival and welfare. Energy policy should not be based on narrow commercial, military, or national interests, but on global concerns. The price of energy should reflect its true cost.

All the people of this world need equitable access to sources of energy for personal needs and development of their communities. We are concerned about the great risk to the environment and to future generations posed by the increased use of nuclear fission and fossil fuels. A shift to solar and other renewable energy sources is imperative. Increased efficiency and conservation are essential: to meet the energy needs of people through the world; to lessen the likelihood that war will be used to gain or protect energy sources; and to reduce the dangers to health and the natural environment. We recommend:

A Short List of Recommended Readings Footnotes:
1 One quad = 1 quadrillion (1015 = thousand million million) BTU = 1.055 x 1018 Joule = 2.9 x 1011 kWh. In this paper, billion is the American billion = thousand million (billion outside U.S. = million million). American units will be used throughout (metric in parenthesis).  Return to text

2 The primary source for this section is ch 8 - 10 of Bodansky   Return to text